Wednesday, December 19, 2007

December 17, 2007
WAIS Divide camp Antarctica

Time: 9 am
Latitude: 77° 49.98’ S- McMurdo
Longitude: 166° 49.10’ E - McMurdo

Latitude: 79° 28.10’ S - WAIS
Longitude: 112° 3.56’ W - WAIS
Elevation: 1820 meters (5919’ ) WAIS - McMurdo was at sea level so its elevation was only ~50’

Temperature: -15 °C ( 2 °F)
Wind speed: 30 km/h (19 mp/h)- WAIS Divide
Wind Chill: -28°C (-20°F)
Clouds: clear – McMurdo , 500’ visibility at WAIS Divide
Wind direction: W
Relative Humidity: 75%
Barometric Pressure: falling
Precipitation: clear in McMurdo but blowing snow at WAIS Divide

Yea!! We are off. Our 8:30 departure from McMurdo was actually an 8:30 departure just as if it always happens this way and there was never any reason for doubt about getting off the ground and to the WAIS Divide camp. In this morning flight, other than tons of cargo are the rest of the drilling group; Laurant, Bill, Nicolai, and Paul. Also on board is our Kiwi generator mechanic Ben, Ken (the WAIS Divide Ice Core Project Chief Scientist), a GA (general assistant) to help around camp named Zack, my fellow core handler Anais, and myself. The nine of us are psyched to get out of McMurdo and get on with the project. I am sure that once we get to camp there will be plenty of our favorite shoveling and tent set-up to do. We should get there in about 5 hours, sometime after lunch – which we brought with us in handy little prepackaged lunch boxes (not the best food on the continent but we appreciate the service).

I want to continue with yesterday’s discussion about the collecting of observations and data with the 3d quadrat I will install at the WAIS Divide camp.

What we observe in our areas (here of at home) as a warm or cold day could be misinterpreted as a change in climate if we do not have any reference for what the “usual” conditions are. Any warm or cold day could be just a normal variation in the weather in that area at that time. For example, a lower than normal winter snow-pack in my area at home could be misinterpreted as a change in climate and possibly even global cooling. Climate is defined as the average weather over a 30-year period so any one winter’s snow pack or daily temperature does not necessarily reflect a change in weather or global climate. Though if we continually to make observations and find that we are getting less snow than our usual winter snow packs, and it happens again and again for years and even decades then we have to wonder if the climate may have changed.

Once we decide that our long-term over 30 year long lower snow pack data does indicate a change in climate we have to then wonder why it is happening, and if it is either possibly a “normal” long-term cycling variation that Earth has gone through for millions of years or if the change in snow pack in Southern Maine we have observed is caused by something different. The processes starts with finding out if other places on Earth are also experiencing lower than usual snow pack years. If not, then maybe Southern Maine is just experiencing unusual changes. If though, many areas on Earth are observing similar changes, then we might have some real change going on that we need to investigate still further.

Temperature varies, sometimes dramatically, from one small place to another. Even within a 1m3 area there are variations in temperature. You should measure the temperature at the ground level and also at the top of a 13m 3d quadrat before and after the Sun rises in your area. What you will find is a, often dramatic, change in temperature between the ground level and 1m up from the ground and that the temperature difference changes rapidly as the day progresses due to heating of the surface. It is not just temperature but all the other weather parameters that we should consider and how they interact with each other. For example, if the temperature is different at the top and the bottom of the 3d quadrat at any one time during the day then how is the humidity affected since the moisture is largely in the surface (ground/soil) and it is temperature that determines the amount of water that can be evaporated into the air changing the percent of relative humidity. If humidity does change, then how does that water vapor transfer from the ground into the atmosphere and go into cloud formation and form precipitation? The “Butterfly Effect” says that everything is interconnected and related and no one thing can happen without it influencing changes in other things. So it is with the global climate system. No one place can change its weather and climate without some influence on or by the weather and climate in other places.

Certainly within the area of the entire of the McMurdo Station or the WAIS Divide camp there is a great variety in temperature due to topography, elevation change, and the surface material. The variation here at McMurdo may be as great as 10 oF due to the difference between black volcanic material and some ice/snow on parts of the surface. This makes it very difficult to understand that any one measurement in an area can be “the” average of temperature – like global average temperature. The amount of variation around the globe in temperature is extremely great and we need to understand variations between large and small areas.

The 3d quadrat then is a micro scale version of the entire globe. In fact, within every 3d quadrat the same chemical and physical cycling is taking place that is happening around the global. And not only temperature, but wind, humidity, surface and atmospheric chemical and physical cycling (like the water, nitrogen, and carbon cycles) occur inside every 3d quadrat. The exact same concentration of chemicals does not occur in every 3d quadrat, if they were placed at every school-yard across the globe, but in each 3d quadrat the same chemicals and earth system dynamics occurs in every cube.

If we can then first observe/measure and ultimately understand what is happening inside only a small 1 3m area than we can more easily understand what happens within the entire global system. A 3d quadrat is a micro-version of the global climate system that we can actually get our hands around (pun intended). It changes the problem of trying to understand the entire gigantic global climate system into one that is a little easier - essentially we are only responsible for 13m, though one that reflects changes in the entire globe.

The first step is to very carefully observe and record what is happening with weather in your area (3d quadrat), then to compare the observations with other areas (3d quadrats at other schools). Once we establish the changes that are taking place then we can start to find out why. Even though climate is a 30-year average and we are only observing daily weather, we can start to record our observations, compile a longer record, and compare our observations to other established records. This work is very valuable by adding to the important scientific record, by adding to our personal understanding of how weather and climate operate, and to our understanding of how we are intricately involved in the system.

We made it - WAIS Divide camp finally!!! A bit if a reunion with our colleagues that preceded us out here. Gone are the mountains, rocks, roads, and everything that is not plain white surface that extends to the horizon in every direction for what seems like forever.

The first thing we did was to set up Anais’s tent called an Arctic Oven. Not sure how warm these tents will be but they are square-shaped and yellow. There was another Artic Oven tent already set up and unoccupied, so I moved into that one. We also helped Ken dig out a tent that was set up for him. That little job took and hour. We then took a quick tour of some of the camp buildings and then off to the drill tower to see the progress there. WAIS Divide camp is really a small city with a medical tent, a galley tent and eating area, a science tent, about 30 personal sleeping tents, a drill dome and a number of other small tent-buildings that house various equipment, and piles and piles of crates. We even have an oven for baking and electricity from generators to power computers and electric lights. This might not be your first impression of the middle of West Antarctica but in order to drill an ice core this deep it is going to take a lot of people and equipment, and it takes a lot of power to make it all happen and keep this many people (50 so far) warm and feed.

Tomorrow we will start putting together the remaining unassembled equipment. We do have an Internet connection here through our satellite link but it only operates a few hours a day and does not have enough bandwidth to upload images. I will be sending images out through the mail via the frequent flow of LC-130 airplanes and little by little the images can be added by colleagues receiving the images at home.

PS The communications from WAIS Divide camp is a little sketchy and I will not be able to report every day but will as often as possible.

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